Hilo Ukulele

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There have been a few ukuleles using the name ‘Hilo’ over the years. The most common one now is based on the island of Hilo, Hawaii (although the ukuleles themselves are made in China). All the advertising I’ve seen for them say the company was founded in 1926. But for a company that old, there’s not much information on them around.

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  1. Jeff Ritterpusch November 20th, 2009 10:45 pm

    I have one of these:

    It plays and projects very well although you can tell it was cheaply made and mass produced. It is vintage and made in Hawaii though.

    Here’s some info on an older one that I found while surfing for info on Hilo Ukuleles. This guy made a good find:


  2. Woodshed November 21st, 2009 7:16 am

    Jeff: Thanks very much for the info.

  3. ilovelaika May 31st, 2010 11:30 pm

    i have a hilo baritone uke that i got for about $40. given the price, it plays surprisingly well. after a fixing few minor set backs (the nut popping off repeatedly, the loose tuners, and high action) it’s turned to a good-looking, decent-sounding instrument.

  4. Josh.0 December 1st, 2010 10:19 pm

    I have a Hilo soprano made in china. I got mine from a buddy who got it from guitar center a couple years back. It is terrible. It is not even a musical instrument. Its not a toy either though, its just a joke. It is total garbage. There is no redeeming quality of this fake ukulele. There are many other brands selling cheap instruments that actually play. Steer clear of this heap.

  5. Scooterchick January 2nd, 2011 9:51 pm

    I bought a used Hilo baritone uke. It is very hard for me to play, I’ve learned a few chords. I think the action is off. I’ve thought about taking it to a luthier to have it re-worked, but would it be throwing away money? It has a pretty good sound, and I’ll bet it needs new strings.
    I enjoy playing my concert ukulele a lot more.

  6. LeggoMarx January 12th, 2011 12:50 pm

    I got a Chinese Hilo tenor uke for about $45, and I love it. When it’s tuned just right, it sounds lovely, but the intonation is not great. I’ve played ukes of higher quality on visits to music shops, and the difference in sound is clear, but this tenor is a good beginner/knock-around instrument. Their sopranos are not recommended.

  7. jeffrey March 13th, 2011 9:27 am

    I have a Hilo soprano that is a few years old and I love it! I replaced the tuners which would come loose all the time and now it sounds great!!! also great for carrying around when going to the beach, on the sailboat, BBQs….

  8. John March 16th, 2011 2:02 pm

    Wow – hard to believe anyone could possibly be surprised when a $25 instrument sounds like a $25 instrument.

    Cost half as much as a Lanikai and about half as good. But in that context, they’re OK. Budget instruments – perfect for taking to the beach or on a boat. True beaters, and for that, they’re good value for the very small amount they cost.

    I’ve played a few over the years, and now have a soprano, probably about 20 years old from the look of it. I’m happy with it. Scooterchick, don’t take it to a luthier! It will cost you more than the instrument is worth just to have a luthier look at it. If you want to lower the action, cut the nut slots down slightly, so that the strings are only a few millimeters off the first fret. Then, sand down the bridge until you’re happy with the sound and feel. If you get fret buzz, you’ve gone to far, but that’s what paper shims are for – and frankly, bridges are so cheap, I always keep several on hand, along with nuts.

  9. Scott R March 23rd, 2011 12:34 am

    First of all, I second John’s first comment

    I bought my Hilo about a week ago, on sale, for $35. Given the price, I was not at all expecting the thing to play like gold. For the quality, it does have a nice sound, and its easy and fairly smooth to play. Honestly, the only bad things I have to say about this Uke is that I sometimes need to tune it multiple times a day, and the action is way too high for my taste. Additionally, something that is bought new shouldn’t already have notches and scuffs on it, haha.

    I do recommend to buy as a “take anywhere, everywhere” Uke. Throw some Aquilla strings on it, and your good to go

  10. federico May 11th, 2011 10:13 pm

    I got a Hilo in 2008 when I decided I wanted to play “Elephant Gun.” It’s a good uke to buy if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to play it proficiently or if you’ll only play once in a while. Nothing really is horribly wrong with the instrument- it plays well when tuned and held correctly. The sound isn’t spectacular but I think for the price it’s fine. I’ve noticed when I play certain notes (Em and G to be exact) the sound is off-key and screechy. Just went to a guitar store and was blown away by the sound quality of a $200 uke.

    So I’ll be buying a new one pretty soon.

  11. Sal Pedi June 8th, 2011 9:41 pm

    You could have fooled me!….if you told me that the uke was $500, I would not have guessed it was a Hilo!.. so, for a starter uke, Hilo has a good low price going for it…

  12. m bayer July 9th, 2011 5:13 am

    for being a $40 impulse buy at a guitar center it’s been exactly what i was looking for. A cheap thing to learn on and throw along on camp trips, to the beach, or just where ever without the worries of it being destroyed. Although, this one has start to tone nicely after two years of playing, so I would feel a little bad.

    terribly made, but it’s a good way to figure if you even want to continue to learn to play.

  13. Catherine December 24th, 2011 11:20 pm

    I got mine about 6 years ago in Honolulu and paid something like $120 for it, but I’m positive it is a different model than the ones people are describing here. The hardware isn’t too smooth and the uke detunes itself pretty easily and the stain job is not great but the action is excellent, it’s weighted very nicely and projects very well. The action is good up and down the fretboard with no buzz and no dead spots.

  14. Xavi December 27th, 2011 9:07 am

    I just got the Hilo Soprano model 2652 for Christmas! I looked it up and found out its only $40. At first I thought the ukuele was going to be complete garbage. Then i opened up the box it came nicely packaged and looked really nice. The finish is pleasing to the eye and looks real not like a little toy. I tuned the string and suprisingly, it sounded really good. It’s been 2 days now and the strings already keep their tune very well. For only $40 you can’t pass this uke up. Given the price I give it 5 stars because its not a junk toy that isn’t playable. It looks and sounds great. It even compared to my makala tenor! Buy this uke, you won’t be disappointed.

  15. Alex January 16th, 2012 7:47 pm

    I recently bought one of these at the Guitar Center for just over $30. The instrument is quite cheaply made and doesn’t have the greatest sound, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing when starting out. If you want to try out the uke but aren’t sure whether or not you’ll actually like it, I would highly recommend one of these.

    This is great for starting out because it is very playable and you don’t need to sound wonderful in the beginning. Also, if you decide that you don’t like to play the ukulele, its not a huge waste of money. But if you do enjoy the ukulele and decide to upgrade to a higher quality brand, this one will still be good for bringing on trips and such and won’t have to worry about screwing up your good instrument. You get exactly what you pay for here but definitely start here

  16. big Dal February 24th, 2012 3:50 pm

    I have a Hilo soprano that was given to me by afriend who had it for 50 years. The person that gave it to me had never played it in the 50 years they had had it and it was given to them, so I don’t know how old it really is. I tuned it up with the strings that had been on it for over 5o years and it sounded great. I have had it now for two years and it still sounds great and looks great.

  17. Dale May 28th, 2012 10:42 am

    I live in east Hawaii I purchased a Hilo tenor about 5 years ago for 50 bucks I love it and wouldn’t sell it for 10xs that amount
    I have a few other ukes in to 200 dollar price range but the Hilo is my first love the best 50 bucks Ive ever spent!!

  18. Hutch April 10th, 2013 12:18 am

    I am a 15 year old musican and I own a Hilo that I got from a friend. I looked it up and was suprised that for the decent sound that it produces its only 40 bucks! As a novice ukle player it is definatley a great starter! I love taking it to school and I dont worry about the abuse it takes from my friends. Mine keeps its tune really well and has a great sound for a mass produced ukulele! Totally would recomend this for a begginer, not some one who is looking for high quality sound.

  19. Tim May 18th, 2013 10:41 pm

    I have a Hilo concert, model 2659, that I paid $30 for online five years ago. I had to dress nearly every fret end, most were sharp. The geared tuners work okay, but the post “washers” are just that, a white plastic washer that flops around between the peghead and string.

    The “light mahogany” wood (catalog description) is thick, and a look inside reveals three fanned out braces under the top at the rear. Too much bracing.

    It actually plays about as well as my other Lanikai and Vineyard ukes, so far as intonation, feel, and action height. One drawback is a twelve fret neck clearance, I like 14. Worst point, it sounds like a cardboard box.

    Okay to play when I don’t care about the tone, it’s my tote around “beater” uke.

  20. tori May 26th, 2013 2:17 pm

    My wife and I really want to learn to play and after reading most of these comments I know that I can’t buy a “beginner” model. However, I have NO CLUE what is a great uku that I won’t have to drop a million bucks on. I would hate to no be able to learn it and then just have a great uku.

    What would ya’ll recommend as a decent starter uku? I found a Hilo, Model 2656, for $75 hardly touched. Is this a good find?

    Helpppppp, please and thank you!

  21. Mat July 5th, 2013 7:09 pm

    Paid around 50$ for a Hilo Baritone uke.
    Big mistake
    This instrument is so off, not sure we can call this an instrument. It looks like its made of plastic. No projection, no playability, no fun either. Didn’t play well at all, I mean, worst than some toys instruments from Toys R Us. I have also a barytone ukulele The Classic and it is day and nite compare to that Hilo nonsense.
    To avoid real money waster.

  22. Thomas W Edwards-Fort November 25th, 2013 9:54 am

    I, like the rest, do not know much of the Hilo brand, so i cant speak much for the family of ukes. However, my ~$40 Hilo 2652 is a charm. It was given to me as a gift a few years ago. learned how to play it quick, and took it to school everyday. Looked fine and sounded great for the price. Real easy on the hands, so it really made for a quick learning curve.

    For the price, this is a great beginners uke, being really easy to learn (low action, decent size frets).And even after a couple years, has taken some major beating, yet still sounds like it did from day one.

    All in all, the 2652 is a great starter uke, but i would recommend more vetran players to look else where

  23. Jim Warnock May 9th, 2014 4:07 am

    I have a Hilo 2655 baritone and it sounds quite good. I have a concert and a soprano which both sound better but they were also costlier. No complaints.

  24. Sherrie Hoyer August 27th, 2014 6:16 pm

    When were Hilo ukes made in Japan? My soprano is model # 50-1 Japanese made,with a wooden nut. Has mother of pearl dots,and plays great.

  25. Mary Lyons August 13th, 2015 2:33 pm

    I just picked up a Hilo 2652 at the GoodWill store for $2.00…looking at the outside, I noticed it didn’t say Hilo up on the top of the neck, like the ones I just viewed on line did…also at the bottom of the label it says Taiwan, so I guess it’s a fake. I’m taking it to the music store to get two missing buds on the tuner/winder part and new strings. For $2.00 plus strings, if it doesn’t sound right, it will still be a nice wall piece, at that price. I’m glad I looked on line to read about counterfeit or knock-off instruments.

  26. Les December 9th, 2015 9:01 pm

    Love my 2652. Could use better strings. Good action. Good buy for the cash.

  27. Tami September 19th, 2016 1:59 am

    Hilo ukulele, at least from the 80’s, maybe older. Plastic Fret markers and tuners. Gold and black metal Hilo sticker on top of headstock. made in Japan sticker on back,double white rings painted around sound hole. Dark wood body and fretboard, lighter neck and headstock. No other marking or stickers to indicate model or year. My dad was a guitar teacher, and passed away in the late 80’s and this was in a cardboard box. Any ideas on model, wood or value? I’m assuming it was a student model, but I thought hilos were made in China…

  28. tiare reed October 1st, 2017 1:31 pm

    Hilo Ukulele’s are not very good. Cheap assembly line made in China…I would NOT recommend. Save your cash and buy a bette brand.

  29. Brian Dahlke August 5th, 2019 8:28 pm

    I have a Hilo mahogany Banjo Uke , mine is made in Japan great instrument- but no info anywhere I am able to find

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